6/5/2012 5:36 PM ET|
Legal pot could save US billions
The variety of factors involved makes an accurate estimate nearly impossible, but the public is warming to the idea of legalizing marijuana.
Is there gold to be reaped in the green of marijuana and its legalization?
That's the question increasingly being batted around statehouses nationwide as governments stagger under budget crises and marijuana use becomes more tolerated, if not accepted.
The answer? Yes -- with an asterisk, or maybe three.
Marijuana has been called the largest cash crop in the United States. It's certainly the most popular illegal drug, the center of an estimated $15 billion to $30 billion "industry" in the U.S. Whether you like it or not, weed is everywhere: Four in 10 Americans say they've tried it, and 17 million say they've used it in the past month. That's about 5.5% of the nation's population (and some researchers speculate that an additional 3 million-plus use it but don't cop to that in surveys).
What's more, attitudes on pot are changing. A record, ahem, high of 50% of Americans now favor the drug's legalization, polling company Gallup says. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia now have laws allowing marijuana use for some medical purposes, and Connecticut may soon join them.
California has been in the vanguard, though. And there's arguably one reason why the debate has gone mainstream in the Golden State, and thus elsewhere: Legalization could spell money for state coffers during hard times.
Does all this ring a bell? It should.
"It's exactly the same -- precisely -- why the country had turned against Prohibition long earlier," says Daniel Okrent, the author of "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition." (Prohibition, the 1919 constitutional amendment banning alcohol, lasted 14 years, until the bottom of the Great Depression.)
Though Prohibition may have begun as a moral issue, it ended as a business decision. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and ushered in the Depression, "income tax collection over the next four years fell as much as 30%," Okrent says. "And capital gains taxes disappeared entirely. The government had no money to operate on."
Pressure built to legalize beer and hard booze once again, in order to tax them.
The 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933, repealing the ban on booze. The first year after Prohibition was repealed, alcohol taxes made up a whopping 9% of federal revenue, Okrent says. Prohibition's end "was very much a tax issue," he says. "It's very similar to where we are today" with marijuana.
What the numbers say
So how much money could marijuana raise, if the nation legalized, regulated and taxed it?
It's not a simple question with a precise answer, because there's no precedent. Nowhere in the world can you legally produce, sell and use cannabis like any other product. Even in the Netherlands, famous for its "coffee shops" that are allowed to sell pot, it's actually illegal to supply the shops with marijuana, a contradiction the Dutch have never sorted out.
That said, Jeffrey Miron has tried to crunch the numbers. In a 2010 study, Miron, a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard and a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said legalizing marijuana nationwide would save about $8.7 billion a year in law-enforcement costs.
What are those costs? About 750,000 people are arrested nationwide for marijuana possession annually. Those arrests -- and expenses related to them -- could vanish. Ditto for jail time. So could the time spent on most court cases involving marijuana, Miron says.
"Marijuana comprises 60% of (drug) cartel income," adds Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles deputy chief of police and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former criminal-justice professionals critical of the war on drugs. "So if it's regulated and controlled, there's going to be a severe cut in criminal income and, hopefully, a reduction in marijuana-related violence."
That would mean less police work, Downing says. And it doesn't end there.
"There are serious costs associated with being arrested, to the individual and their families," says Beau Kilmer, a co-director of Rand's Drug Policy Research Center and a co-author of an upcoming book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know." A marijuana conviction can make it more difficult to get public housing, student aid and possibly a job, Kilmer says. Those costs -- very real, if harder to quantify -- would also vanish.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
my wife has cancer and the chemo drugs are really bad for her body
they gave her oxycotton for the pain she didnt like it and i didnt either it made her really mean
so i got some pot and made brownies and i never seen anything like it
she throwed all the pill meds away after she had brownies it helped with pain and her belly
she is eating again shes been getting up doing things again i really wish they would do something
about it not only is it good medicine but it would throw mexico for a loop them drug lords would have a fit legalize it it is really senseless not to
Legalizing marijuana is a no brainer.
It reduces the cost of jails (Up to 1/3 of NJ jails [State and County facilities] is "pot" related), and eases over-crowding.
It is far safer to use than alcohol, and not as harmful as cigarettes. It actually has some real health benefits.
It reduces waste of the police officer's time (instead of "busting" for possession of "weed", the officer could be preventing a rape or robbery).
It creates a new tax base, and enhances some current ones.
Laws similar to alcohol and cigarette use can be made.
It is NOT a "gateway" drug like alcohol is. A drunk person is far more likely to try other drugs than a "stoned" person.
I do not like weed. I have used it in the past, but stopped years ago because I do not like the "high". Just because I personally don't like it, I don't see any logical reason to keep it illegal.
Time for stoners to get a bit of American freedom, the only thing they have been getting is the shaft in the form of hefty fines, shaming, and the authorities looking down on them.
Criminals get away with the theft of billions, but a young man with a baggie gets impaled at the main plaza and his mug shot is posted all over town.
Time for stoners to get a bit of the right of way...
One tablespoon of pot oil a day stops my arthritis pain and also made my wife's terminal cancer pain tolerable until the last week when we gave her morphine. She died at home on her 75th birthday. God bless her.
Neither of us got high or had the 'munchies' so i am all for legalizing it.
I don't know about "children", but ignorance definitely plays a part in this. Let's look at the facts, and legalize. Amendment 64!
Why is smoking the only option discussed. Eating it as a food is the way to go. It is actually good for you. Hemp oil is better than even flax seed oil.
There's no need to treat marijuana users. I'm a former user and one day, I just decided to up and quit. No fuss, no muss. I smoked through college and for about a decade after, nearly daily. It never affected my ability to go about my daily tasks and I've been gainfully employed (software engineer) with the same company since my junior year in college.
I have many friends that smoke cigarettes that wish they could just quit without any difficulty. Marijuana, while psychologically addictive, is just not physically addictive. Anything can be psychologically addictive.
If it is a long drawn out process to decriminalize or legalize, then get started now. Prohibition is a wa$te of revenues, better spent elsewhere. There will be no giant rush of eager folks running out to find out what pot smoking is all about. Those that smoke will continue and those that dont wont. We need to stop making criminals out of those who do.
Those who say use will go up if its legalize are wrong everyone who wants to smoke pot does except a very small number who are drug tested for work and are afraid to lose their jobs. Most people who have drug testing at work and want to smoke just take their chances. The thing they don't talk about is if pot were legal is that the use of other harder drugs will go down because the dealers of pot tend to live in the same vicinity as the dealers of hard drugs so when you take the criminal element out of the weed trade you make it harder for the hard drug dealers to push their products. Most young pot smokers only try other things when they can't find any weed. If they can get weed at the stores or in their gardens they'll be far less likely to ever even try coke or meth or heroin.
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
RECENT ARTICLES ON PERSONAL FINANCE
Hurricane season is coming. But storms can happen at any time. Here are six smart things to do to get your home ready before the storm hits.